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  • Eugene McGarrell

Cathedrals and Cafes: Why your current management structure is not fit for the #futureofwork


The Industrial Revolution provided the context for today’s paradigm of management. Newton’s laws on physics underpinned the view that tasks could be organised, predetermined and “managed” to improve productivity.


This model was successful in the factories where more widgets made faster on lower wages created more parts at cheaper rates, increased profits, happier shareholders and a growing economy. It also led to a growing union movement as the human impact of production was clearly secondary to profits.


“Cause and effect” is easy to establish in a technical world. A world that is focused on manufacturing “things”. But that world is rapidly vanishing as technology automates manufacturing and bureaucracy. The #futureofwork is already here.


Yet the management model is firmly in place within the bowels of corporate, government and not for profit organisations. This is where the power lies and this is where innovation is stunted, creativity is undermined, and opportunities are lost.


Humans continue to strive for power, to fight for the alpha position and to beat their chest at the highest vantage point. Management structures sustain that ritual and politics provides the fuel to keep that mode of organisation alive. I mean, who doesn’t like the politics, right?


Physics is no longer the science we should base our organisational structures. Except for the humans at the top of the pile, the hierarchy of management does not provide the optimum environment for people to create opportunities for the organisation in this complex context of systems and community. We need to get inspiration from the sciences of mathematics and chemistry.


Automation of tasks are driven by algorithms. Algorithms are not new; they have been around since the year dot. An algorithm is a recipe for bread, it’s a standing operational procedure at a factory and it’s the software behind spreadsheets. Today’s technology is creating complex and self-learning algorithms which will over time take over more and more work from humans. We live in interesting times.


An artificial intelligence machine can learn the game of chess and learn how to play chess beyond the level of chess masters in about an hour. But can it learn to love? Can it learn to empathise? Can it learn to connect with others?


Yet the pervasive management paradigm continues to hold back the most advanced computing and sensory technology available, humans. We strive to effect change through structural plays to create obedience, discipline and compliance in humans which in effect sustains the status quo and current performance.


In order to survive and hold on to power, organisations and managers need to sustain the problem they were set up to solve.


The opportunity in today’s #futureofwork context is to effect change by letting go of power and liberating people to realise the potential of their passion, intelligence and imagination. Each person in the workplace has a more advanced set of algorithms coupled with a sense making ability that machines cannot replicate. The human within the organisation needs to be uncoupled from the management matrix that is holding her back.


The sense making is the chemistry. The head, the heart and the gut sense the environment and computes the best option from millions of possibilities. Relationships underpin effectiveness, the networks we create provide the opportunities to create, to innovate and to execute. Humans do this extremely well. We are social animals; we need to belong to tribes. Tribes make things happen, humans in isolation do not survive.


Manufactured tribes created by management have limited potential. Formal authority is undermined if the tribe does not appoint that leader. Delegated tasks are completed to a point. Outcomes are not achieved to their full potential. Self-agency and autonomy are stripped away and so is the energy for the work at hand.


Tribes that emerge from social interaction, from shared passions and from shared values get things done. They are driven by their sense of ownership of the goal and by their sense of self agency. Magic happens when people get together to form a tribe with a shared goal.


Cathedrals provided a sense of power for the church. They sucked in all the wealth in the form of gold, created symbols of worship for the poor and provided hallways of power for the popes, cardinals and bishops. But the pubs and cafes are where the real conversations took place. These were the places people got together to share their stories, form tribes and organise revolutions.


While the people in power sit in their cathedrals, their palaces, their government departments and plush agile working offices without connecting with the pubs, cafes, community centres and customers they will continue to perpetuate the status quo until one day they become irrelevant.


The focus of the #futureofwork is not technology. Technology will look after itself. The focus should be on how to unleash the human potential of the workforce. Human potential cannot be automated. Organisations need to be outward looking, authentically engaging the “cafes and pubs” (not as a PR exercise).


It’s time to let go of the management paradigm that constrains human potential. It’s time to allow the alchemy of natural tribes to emerge in order to realise the potential of organisations.


There is an opportunity to connect the “cathedral” with the “cafes and pubs”. I will explore that opportunity further in my next blog. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of the #futureofwork.

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